Home » Education » Sign Language and Children

Sign Language and Children

I’m no expert in sign language, but it’s been a very fun part of parenting for me, and something I’ve thought about writing about on this blog for several weeks. I knew this was the time to write this post when my sister Catherine (who is taking a proper ASL class) sent me a link to this wonderful ASL resource site.

I bought a set of thirteen Signing Time DVDs when Emma was about 9 months old (yes, I violated the “no TV before age 2” rule). I loved the idea of signing with my baby, and I had tried teaching Emma a few signs with no success. I borrowed the first Signing Time DVD (My First Signs) from the library, and within a week Emma could sign “milk”. I borrowed a couple more, and when Emma kept learning new signs I decided to take the plunge and buy the series. I normally stick with library materials, but our library only has one copy of each DVD and there’s always a long wait list – plus the DVDs get scratched after being borrowed by so many different people.

Emma is now nearly three, but she likes to watch the DVDs and is still learning new signs. I’ve lost count of how many signs she knows, but it’s a lot, especially if you count numbers and letters. She spends a lot of time teaching Johnny and her baby doll how to sign. Johnny is more verbal than Emma was at his age, and (maybe because of this?) he signs less, but he knows how to sign “ball” and “Leah” (a girl on the DVDs who Johnny adores), and if Emma has her way he will learn many more signs in the near future.

Emma only spoke a handful of words before her second birthday, but she signed so well that we were able to communicate very effectively. I don’t think signing slowed down her speech. All of Emma’s early spoken words were words she already knew how to sign, and I believe that signing helped her learn her letters and colors. I like that learning how to sign teaches that there are different ways of saying the same thing – an important concept for advanced language development. Sign language also helped Emma express several abstract concepts (hungry, hurt, tired, happy, silly) at a very young age.

I really enjoyed learning alongside Emma – this is one parent-child activity where a parent could easily learn as much (if not more) than their child. And it’s critical for the parent to learn the signs alongside their child. Sitting your child in front of a sign language video is not going to accomplish much if they can’t use their new signs to communicate with anyone. Besides, knowing how to sign is a useful parenting skill. It’s much more pleasant to silently sign “share” to Emma during playdates than to give her a verbal lecture, and it’s fun to sign “I love you” to Daddy through the window each morning as he drives away for work – and to see him signing “I love you” back.

I would like to learn to sign fluently someday, but for now I’m grateful for an easy way to learn several real ASL signs while having fun with my toddlers.

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

7 thoughts on “Sign Language and Children”

  1. I think you introduced us to signing time. We only have two, but molly loves to watch them with Jackson. He’s like Johnny-he watches the movies and learns to say the words before he learns to sign them. They repeat the words enough that you can learn either way. By the way, I love your blog redesign, especially the header. Very classy, and such good-looking kids. I think it’s the best blog layout of all the ones you have links to.

  2. I have really loved signing wtih Emma, I highly recommend it. It’s worth checking to see if your PBS station runs Signing Time, I wish ours would…

  3. I’m thinking about trying this out with Rachel. I never signed with her brothers, but it sure would have made things easier. Why is it that I finally figuring things out on the LAST baby?

  4. I think Signing Time helped Emma understand numbers, letters, and to build a much larger vocabulary. There are a ton of animals she only knows about because of Signing Time. I also speak French to her sometimes at home – but only sporadically, so she’s not remotely bilingual. Actually, because I’m inconsistent, I think she initially thought I occasionally went nuts and started speaking gibberish. Signing helped her understand that I was just speaking another language, and now she can sawy a few words. I’m in the same boat as Andrea now – Emma loves signing and wants to learn more but I don’t know of a good resource to move beyond the words and small phrases you get from Signing Time. If anyone comes across a good program, please let me know!

  5. We did signs with my son, too. Not as many as you did, but for all the major stuff–milk, eat, potty, etc. My favorite resource was a book called “Sign with your Baby.” It helped a lot that he could let us know what was up–I think we had fewer meltdowns than if we had not done any signs. My daughter has been MUCH more verbal than my son was, so we didn’t really do much signing. That’s a great idea, by the way, to be able to sign “share” instead of having the big lecture on it. :)

  6. Signing Times is my absolute favorite! Naomi couldn’t say any words at 14 months so we started recording them (they are on PBS here) and by 18 months she could sign hundreds of words. I’m also convinced that is why she could recognize her alphabet and numbers before she could talk as well. Did you find it helped with that as well? I recommend it to everyone who has kids. We are now trying to figure out how to continue her learning because she loves signing. I haven’t found any real classes for little kids beyond just baby signing stuff.

  7. Emily and I did sign language too and now I am teaching Clara. Clara made her first sign at 6 months, so I am excited to continue with it! I think signing has made it easier for Emily to learn foreign languages. At 4 years old, she picked up several phrases in English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese! Looking forward to checking out the online resource you linked to…. :-)

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top